NT’s $50 billion Indigenous renewable energy partnership

Brandon How

The Australian subsidiary of UK-based Octopus Group has sealed a partnership with the Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network (NTIBN) to deliver an estimated $50 billion of investment into renewable energy projects over the next ten years.

Majority indigenous-owned Desert Springs Octopus (DSO) launched on February 17 as a join- venture (JV) between NTIBN and Octopus Australia. DSO hopes to commence construction on their first project in the next year.

The company plans to provide low-cost renewable energy to support infrastructure investments in Northern Australia. Potential projects include hydrogen production, new water infrastructure, energy for data centres, energy for mining, electricity transmission, promoting renewable energy development, and construction of renewables-based grid infrastructure in NT.

The NT government wants 50 percent of electricity consumption to come from renewable sources by 2030 to meet net zero emissions by 2050.

Octopus Australia’s 180MW Windfarm in Dulacca Queensland

Octopus Australia managing director Sam Reynolds anticipates that the first five years of DSO will focus on “wind, solar, and storage” development. However, given the high energy demand of land scarce countries in Asia like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, the firm is considering plans for a 2GW green hydrogen plant in Darwin.

Further, he says the group has received interest from pension funds in the UK, South Korea, and Japan, in addition to superannuation funds they are already partnered with. Mr Reynolds said Australia had the potential to become a “green energy superpower.”

Mr Reynolds said that DSO would also look to construct infrastructure to suit the needs of local communities in NT.

“There’s about 72 different communities in the Northern Territory and 54 of them are off-grid, using diesel [generation sets]. Not great in terms of cost or for pollution. We’d quite like work with the Northern Territory government to get a modular solar and storage solutions put on the ground for those communities,” Mr Reynolds said.

“We’re going to be working really closely with the communities where we’ll be building. Community engagement is at the heart of everything, that’s going to be the real benefit of Desert Springs Octopus.”

Local communities will also receive equity in DSO projects equivalent to the land or capital they invest.

The joint-venture is co-chaired by Mr Reynolds and Jaramer Legal managing director Bevan Mailman. Jaramer Legal is one of the world’s largest majority indigenous owned businesses. Mr Mailman also emphasised the benefits the collaboration would bring to the indigenous communities in NT.

“It is great to be working with Octopus Australia on such a tremendous initiative. It is important that such joint venture initiatives work hand in hand with the first custodians of the land and more directly the Indigenous communities in Northern Australia from a bottom-up approach, so that what is birthed comes from a deep spiritual place for those communities and will ultimately equip communities to be self-governing, independent and growing,” Mr Mailman said.

NTIBN chief executive officer Jerome Cubillo said this partnership was a huge opportunity for the local economy and for future generations of indigenous Australians.

“The NTIBN is excited about the future. We see our partnership with Desert Springs Octopus as a vehicle to place our Certified Aboriginal Business members in the front seat for opportunity in the renewable energy sector,” Mr Cubillo said.

“The NTIBN knows how critical renewable energy infrastructure is for our people, regional economies, futures industries and the creation of self-determination and generational wealth for Aboriginal Territorians.”

Octopus Australia, which is domiciled in Australia and partly Australian-owned, has invested $1 billion in renewable energy infrastructure since arriving in 2017. This includes ownership of Australia’s largest solar farm at Darlington Point in New South Wales which produces 333MW or the equivalent of powering 115,000 homes. Electricity retailer Origin Energy has held a 20 per cent stake in Octopus Energy, the UK-based energy technology business, since 2020.

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